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PubMed and conflicts of interest

U.S. senators want the database to provide funding sources with article abstracts

by Cheryl Hogue
April 5, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 15

U.S. senators are calling for the National Library of Medicine to disclose sources of research funding alongside abstracts of articles that are returned in searches of the library’s PubMed database of biomedical papers.

“It is troubling that the abstract or other bibliographic information presented in a PubMed entry does not communicate authors’ potential conflicts of interest, such as funding sources or significant investments,” the senators say in a March 30 letter to the library, which is part of NIH. They note that this sort information is often disclosed in the full text of an article.

But users must pay to access the full text of most of the articles indexed in PubMed, says the letter from five Democrats, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), and Dick Durbin (Ill.). This means many users of this database—especially members of the public who don’t have access to subscription journals—depend on the no-cost abstracts to obtain central information about a study, they say.

The senators cite a 2015 report by the New York Times that says Coca-Cola funded published research that downplays the link between soda consumption and health problems including obesity and diabetes. This, the lawmakers say, illustrates a growing concern about scientific objectivity of medical research on topics such as nutrition science and health risks from exposure to chemicals.

Thirty-one of the nearly 50 journals of the American Chemical Society are indexed in PubMed. All ACS journals require authors to disclose funding sources and conflicts of interest. ACS also publishes C&EN.


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